A seed settles into the soil and waits. Once it germinates, it moves stone and earth to tunnel the shoot that will become its roots. The seed projects a second shoot skyward, which after breaking ground, will allow it to convert sunlight into the energy it will use to sustain itself for the rest of its life. Drawing upon every resource available, a seed is compelled to become the thing it was meant to be: flower, tree, moss, grass, vine, bush or shrub. If unsuccessful, it will have died trying, but not before exhausting every last fiber of its being to fulfill its potential.
A honeybee, drawing nectar from a blossom, bats its wings at 11,400 times per minute. Salmon swim as much as a thousand miles upstream or more in order to spawn. An ant will carry 20 times its weight to serve a colony. This same drive, all but invisible, pervades everything in the natural world. The world we live in is little more than an endless and vibrant expression of energy.
From the microscopic to the cosmic, our world is a vibrant place, but it is shaped by more than sheer force. It is under the constant care and guidance of a kind of intelligence or order. Thus, a tree bends toward light -- always.
According to the yoga tradition, an abiding intelligence works with the forces of nature to orchestrate all of nature's countless actions, including the healing of your body. This intelligence/force pervades and informs everything, from the functioning of a single cell to the pulsation of the most distant star. It is the invisible fabric that binds everything together into one seamless whole.
Max Planck, the father of quantum mechanics, described a similar vision of the universe this way: "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force ... We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter." The yoga tradition has a word for this invisible intelligence that sustains and organizes all forms of life. It is called dharma.
In its largest context, dharma refers to the unseen and limitless web of intelligence that sustains and supports both the universe as a whole and each individual creation (person, plant, animal, even mineral) within it. Every cell in your body is sustained by dharma. At the same time, dharma organizes and guides all the various kinds of cells (liver, heart, lungs, kidney and bone cells, etc.) in your body to carry out their unique role and to act collectively to support the functioning of your whole body.
In a similar fashion, dharma supports you, as an individual, in your role as an essential part of the whole of life. In this sense we are each a single cell in the greater body of this world, with a unique role to play in the service of sustaining and advancing the whole of which we are a part.
Thus, besides referring to the intelligence that pervades the universe, dharma is the compelling force in each of us that longs to thrive, to become who and what we are meant to be. Furthermore, the principle of dharma asserts that what is in our true best interests as an individual (microcosm) is in the best interest of the universe (macrocosm).
Albert Einstein observed that a human being is part of a whole, -- which we call the "universe" -- a part which is limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few people near us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Einstein's incisive words convey the core principle of dharma. The ancient tradition does indeed ask us to "widen" our vision and to see beyond the perception that we are separate from everything else. If ever there was a definitive philosophy for lasting happiness, Einstein captured it. The principle of dharma is the enduring truth that our individual happiness is inextricably linked to the fate of the world around us.
The point is that if you are committed to achieving true and lasting happiness, it is vital to learn how to recognize the intrinsic desires of your soul, which are forever linked to the guidance and intelligence of dharma.
This understanding is, in fact, a centerpiece of the yoga tradition: Act and shape yourself and life according to the innate wisdom that sustains this world. If you do, you will be happy; if you don't, you won't. Therefore, the ancient sages counseled that we practice yoga to still our minds so that we can best discern how to fulfill our personal dharma -- the one and only key to lasting happiness.
Aligning yourself with the intelligence of the universe means coming to understand your life's purpose and applying it fearlessly to life's circumstances. A profound dedication to purpose defined the lives of Socrates, Lao Tzu, Saint Francis of Assisi, Susan B. Anthony, Frederic Douglass, Florence Nightingale, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela. Each one of them, in their unique ways, embodied the power of dharma by connecting to their life purpose.
In fact, anyone you can think of who has achieved something of real, lasting and positive significance has had this kind of connection to a profound sense of purpose. Great, sometimes even miracle-like, achievements become possible when you are doing something with your life that you know in your innermost heart is truly meaningful.
When you know and choose to serve your soul's driving reason for being -- what I call your dharma code -- you are able to collect and channel extraordinary power into your life because you are then linked to the infinite field of energy and intelligence that shapes our world. Once you are rooted in your soul's defining purpose, you are able to use your dharma code to direct every action and decision from the light of your soul.
A dharma code is each person's individual expression of his/her dharma or soul's purpose. It is a statement that clarifies your soul's reason for being. When acted upon, it is a principle that will benefit not just your own dharma, but the larger or universal expression of it as well. In uncovering and articulating your dharma code, you are providing the opportunity for your soul to direct you to be more fully yourself, and in so doing, to contribute more effectively to the benefit of the world.
According to the ancient teachings, each and every one of us is born with a distinct and glorious purpose. Thus, your soul's unique purpose -- your dharma code -- is hard-wired. It is not something you consciously decide. Your soul's purpose came into this world with you, even if you are not yet aware of it. It has always been a part of you. It's up to you to uncover it -- to bring it to a conscious level -- and then make living by it your priority.
From the yogic perspective, achieving a rich and fulfilling life -- a life full of meaning and true fulfillment -- is all but impossible without first becoming clear about your soul's unique reason for being. This is why uncovering your dharma code is the first step of the process outlined in my book, "The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom." Once you complete this step, you will establish the foundation for achieving your best life -- the one that you came into this world to fulfill and that is your most rewarding and most glorious destiny.
Few things are more powerful than learning to trust that your path to a fulfilled life -- and the glorious destiny that you meant to share with the world -- is part of your soul's blueprint. This is why I say: When you uncover your dharma code and let it lead you, the career and everything else your heart seeks will follow.
Excerpt adapted from "The Four Desires" by Rod Stryker. Copyright © 2011 by Rod Stryker. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.